In August 1966, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, announced a plan to accept a certain number of men into the military who did not meet the previous physical or mental standards for service. The armed forces would accept as a part of their manpower a certain number of "New Standards" men who had scored below a certain threshold on military aptitude tests, and/or who had certain easily correctable medical problems. This initiative was colloquially known as "Project 100,000," after the yearly accessions goal under the program. It began in October 1966.
Military Aptitude Testing
The test determining overall mental suitability for military service during the Vietnam War era was the multi-part Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT). It was not strictly an intelligence test along the lines of an IQ test, but instead measured a man's native intelligence along with things that he could have learned during interactions in civilian life, such as in social situations or in an occupation. African-Americans in particular were at a disadvantage. Segregation and other societal disenfranchisements meant that they as a whole did not score as well on the test as whites, and a much higher percentage were excluded from military service altogether.
Based on how a man scored on the test, he could be placed in one of five categories, I-V. Categories I, II, and III meant that a man had proven intelligent enough to readily absorb any kind of military training. Category IV meant that he would need additional education or assistance. Men scoring in Category IV in peacetime were administratively discharged and reclassified I-Y by Selective Service; they would be acceptable for service in time of war or national emergency only. A man scoring in Category V was deemed not useful for military service in any capacity; he would be administratively discharged and reclassified IV-F.
Besides the universal AFQT, each of the individual services introduced their own multi-part tests to determine suitability for specific military occupational areas. In 1957, the Army introduced the Army Classification Battery (ACB) to screen those recruits who had scored in Category IV on the AFQT; it was quickly realized that the ACB contained many problems that were beyond the ability of Category IV learners. In 1961, the shorter Army Qualification Battery (AQB) was introduced for Category IV men, as well as those with guaranteed assignments to specific types of training; the ACB was reformatted and retained as a universal test. The Marine Corps also used the ACB and AQB. The Air Force used the Airman Qualification Exam (AQE), while the Navy used the Basic Test Battery (BTB).
In each fiscal year, a percentage of each service's manpower accessions were to be made up of men scoring in Category IV on the AFQT. At least 50% of the accessions were to be men who scored such on the AFQT and service-specific aptitude tests as to qualify them under the "New Standards" program, with least 50% of that number being men who had achieved a score of between 10-15 on the AFQT. Under the Medically Remediable Enlistment Program (MREP), a percentage of the total New Standards men could be enlisted if they had any of fifteen defects which were correctable in a short period of time. The Medically Remediable Enlistment program was restricted to voluntary enlistees only.
A control group of normal soldiers was used to monitor the progress of the New Standards men. New Standards men undertook the same training courses as normal soldiers, but additional help was provided where needed. For the most part, the New Standards men proved to be satisfactory soldiers, but certain aspects of the program remained controversial. About 54% of the New Standards men were volunteers, and about 46% were draftees.
- 10% of the control group was non-white, in comparison to 38% of the New Standards men.
- 47% of New Standards men had graduated high school, in comparison to 76% of the control group.
- The New Standards men on average read at a sixth grade level, in comparison to the men of the control group who read at an eleventh grade level.
- 12.8% of the New Standards men were below a fourth grade reading level, in comparison to 1.1% of the control group.
- 94.6% of New Standards men completed basic training, in comparison to 97.5% of the control group.
- 10% of New Standards men proved unsuited for skilled positions, in comparison to 4% of the control group.
- 37% of New Standards men were assigned to combat-related jobs, in comparison to 22% of the control group.
Between October 1966 and December 1971, a total of about 354,000 men entered military service under the New Standards Program, the majority of them in the Army.